Category Archives: Office Hours

Office Hours: Lackluster Online Programs?

My new “Office Hours” column is up at Library Journal:

It’s a response to this letter last month in LJ by Krystal Taylor, an LIS student at IUPUI Indianapolis:

Something quite disturbing is happening to my LIS program…. As of next semester, the program is going almost exclusively to online courses. Due to low enrollment of our courses on campus, the school has decided to move online in an attempt to keep the program alive. I understand this need, but at what cost will this be to the library and information science field?

From the column:

Taylor writes, “Having taken both types of courses, I am convinced that face-to-face [F2F] courses are the better option.” I might argue the tide is turning on that sentiment. In 2011, I wrote “Online LIS Education or Not”on the choices between F2F and online programs. In just a few short months we’ve seen the announcement of a new online library management degree at the University of Southern California and now the evolution of the IU program to mostly online classes. Frankly, a brick-and-mortar LIS school without a fully online option may become a quaint reminder of days gone by in the next decade. With this shift comes a few important considerations for the various stakeholders: students, faculty, hiring librarians, and accrediting bodies.


Office Hours: Lost Control? Not a Problem

My new column is up at the LJ site:

In a discussion after a recent presentation, an educator stood to make a counterpoint to my take on participatory teaching. “I’m paid to have control,” she said. More than one person in the room gasped.

I should have directed her to the new Horizon Report. Among the key trends identified as those impacting teaching and learning for 2013 is an emphasis on “open.” The report states, “Open is a key trend in future education and publication, specifically in terms of open content, open educational resources, massively open online courses, and open access.”

Open teaching, open courses, open minds. It struck me that emphasizing control over what students read, how they respond to discussion questions, and how, essentially, they learn might not be the best path forward when technology and other trends are rapidly changing the learning landscape….


Office Hours: Essential Soft Skills

I for got to post last month’s LJ column here at TTW:

I would add other soft skills such as intuition, political awareness, and a willingness to make and learn from our mistakes. Transparency is evolving into an even more clearly defined “full frontal” strategy for some corporations—putting it all out there. We should follow suit. Library schools should teach case studies of failed library systems and initiatives. We must study our failures as much as we study our successes. There seems to be an ongoing unwillingness to do this. But in fact some libraries make bad decisions, and we have to admit that in order to learn those corrective lessons.

What soft skills would you add? What traits are needed for 21st-century information work? The crux of the matter is this: these skills should be taught throughout our programs, from the core to electives, practicums, and culminating experiences. Teachers should not only teach these skills, they should model them. It’s a tall order for our evolving curriculum, and assessing skills such as intuition and sensitivity is tough. The yield of such hard work, however, is an evolved institution that trains dynamic, responsive library professionals.

Don’t miss the excellent comments from readers on the LJ site!

Office Hours: What Scares YOU?

What keeps you up at night?

I ask this question at some of my library conference presentations as a way to break the ice and get people sharing. The answers are usually in a similar vein: budgets, ebooks, and losing relevance. We might even call those answers the unholy trinity of librarian insomnia.

Relevance seems to be the most troublesome for our profession as we find ourselves yet again doing all those things that begin with “re”: reimagining, reinvigorating, and renewing this, that, and the other. And just as librarians struggle with relevance, I sincerely hope those of us in LIS education are doing the same. That keeps me up at night, especially when I hear from colleagues who question why they should be hiring MLIS grads when other skills and other degrees seem much more useful to the mission of the library.

Read the rest at Library Journal

What scares you these days?

Office Hours Extra: A Reimagined Core by SJSU SLIS’s Robert Boyd


I wrote about working on re-evaluating our core classes at “Office Hours” last month. Robert Boyd, one of our faculty, continues the discussion at our CIRI Blog:

I am also using some new-found time between semesters to read and reflect on two noted thinkers/practitioners, one old and one new.   The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman was originally published in 1852 where Newman proposed the theoretical underpinnings of what would become University College, Dublin.  At core, Newman argued  “the general principles of any study you may learn by books at home; but the detail, the colour, the tone, the air, the life which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already.”  The interaction with faculty, practitioners in the field and with fellow classmates animate and deepen our own learning and can, and should, be introduced and fostered through a re-considered core.

Published a few months ago, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reconsidered written by the founder of the Khan Academy directs our gaze forward.   In describing what higher education could be like, Salman Khan imagines an education “rather than taking note in lecture halls, (where) students will be actively learning through real-world intellectual projects”.   Key elements in the content, delivery and assessment of the curriculum must be further explored, but the innovation actively promoted at SLIS makes the discussions, questions and possibilities for the foundation of our curriculum full of promise, rigor and creativity for faculty and students, alike.


Office Hours: The Evolving LIS Core

My new column is up at LJ:

User studies—research concerning patterns of information use in our everyday lives, in times of crisis, and as members of certain populations (students, the aging, etc.)—define the first part of this core. Appreciating the diversity of cultures in relation to library service should come early, as our grads will be citizens of the world.

Second, the core would include an emphasis on the ever-changing technological landscape. This might include coding, hardware, and all those things once deemed the realm of the IT department but would also include understanding the architecture of participation and the fostering of usable environments for information access and creation.

Communication technology has advanced in ways I never imagined as a library student or public librarian. The world is changing faster than ever, and the ease and depth of information flow is part of that change. When hundreds of thousands of tweets can be gathered and archived for study at the click of a button, Twitter simply cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the way people access, create, and use information, especially when it is one of the eight most visited sites ­worldwide.

Office Hours: Did You Miss the R-Squared Conference? It Was a Barn Burner

My new column is up online at LJ for this month – I wanted double word count so we went with the virtual for this one. The column is all about my experiences at R-Squared:

Over two days we explored creativity and curiosity, heard from keynoters such as Josh Linkner, author of Disciplined Dreaming, and each of us chose and completed our own immersive group experience. I chose Customer Curiosity, though other options included Creative Spaces, Culture, and Abundant Community. With John Bellina and Tasso Stathopulos from the Denver marketing firm Ricochet Ideas. Ricochet is the design group that helped create Anythink and transformed services such as the Anythink summer reading program through disruptive innovation—our group worked at turning the conventions and assumptions about Banned Books Week on its ear. Ideas in the form of action briefs flowed (an action brief is a framing statement used in planning that includes who we want to convince about a service or product, how we will do it and what the service will be that makes the change). Bellina challenged us with: “If we are not offering people something new, are we really doing our jobs?”

This was unlike any library conference I have ever been to, a sentiment echoed by other participants, across Twitter, Facebook, and in the hallways of the conference center. What made the difference? I believe that active engagement promotes learning and transformation more than sitting in the room and watching PowerPoint or Keynote slides go by. We were up, we were talking, we were writing and sharing. We were walking around the room answering questions.

The conference also offered an opportunity to spend time with Jenny Levine, my friend and co-presenter for the Social Technologies Roadshow back in the day. What fun it was to spend time!

Photo by Patricia Martin

My Flickr photo set is here:

Office Hours: Little Free Libraries

My new column is up:

Scanning the recent news articles about the LFL movement reveals something else, too. More often than not, those interviewed acknowledge the sense of community and collegiality that grow up around the little libraries. From a Los Angeles Times piece on a local LFL: “It has turned strangers into friends and a sometimes impersonal neighborhood into a community. It has become a mini–town square….” This gets to the heart of what many of us in libraries know: knowledge shared within a framework of caring and familiarity can strengthen communities.

Evidence of caring is present in the knowledge that few LFLs have been vandalized. Part of the packet a steward receives when registering an LFL includes a document outlining how to prevent vandalism. One hint: “Get as many people as possible to know they are a part of the success of the Little Free Library. It is a gift to all; not a private possession.” So simple, so true.

You can visit our LFL at

Jill Hurst Wahl from Syracuse University adds more to the LFL & LIS story in a comment at LJ

Thanks for this article about the little free libraries.  In Syracuse (NY), we embarked on our own Little Free Libraries project in August 2011, which started with a tweet. Quickly we gathered a team of students and faculty from the LIS program at Syracuse University, students and faculty from the Visual and Performing Arts program at Syracuse University, staff from the Near Westside Initiative, and community members from the Near Westside where we planned on installing little free libraries.  

In October, this large group met on a Saturday to workshop everything about the LFLs.  After that, the design students worked on the design and the LIS students worked on defining the collection.  (BTW I should note that we have had a number of community organizations participate including the Onondaga County Library System and ProLiteracy.)  Our first LFL was launched with on Feb. 3 on Gifford St.  We hosted a party a few doors down, where we received more donations, talked to the media, and engaged in conversations about what the LFLs can be.  Before the evening was over, we had to refill the LFL twice!

Our first LFL went through over 150 books in the first month.  Since then, we have installed two more on the Near Westside.  We have also hosted a book drive for the LFLs and received more than 2000 books from the wider Syracuse community, including donations from children at a local elementary school.  Our LIS students helped with that effort.  

This summer, an LIS student did her internship with the LFL project.  Her task was to create documentation for the project that others could use, including a collection development policy.  Because many people will be involved in the collection, including each LFLs caretaker, we wanted to create documentation that would be helpful to everyone.  

We know from the caretakers and others who interact with the LFLs that they have been well received.  Books do get borrowed quickly and we have learned that truly every book has its reader, no matter the book.  People in the community truly see these as an asset.  (Yes, some books are returned and community members are contributing their own books directly into the LFLs.)

Will we install more? Not immediately. We want to get these firmly rooted in the community and then discuss other locations, different designs, etc.  We are definitely, though, going to do another book drive next spring (2013).  And I should mention that this fall, we will purchase books for the LFLs from cash donations we’ve received from across the country for the project.

For more on our Library Free Libraries project, please go to  Perhaps others can learn from what we have done – and from what others have done – and create their own!

UX Meets Office Hours 2: A Better Site Visit

Aaron Schmidt and I have combined our columns this month for a double length examination of the site visit assignment in LIS schools:

 The most responsive libraries would aim to make a change based on the suggestion of the student. The reports and other data would be shared with the staff and the recommendations for improvements evaluated and implemented. The findings might also be shared externally or with the library’s governing body to promote not only transparency but the positive aspects of the library partnering with a library school. These partnerships should be encouraged and leveraged as much as possible.

Adding this very real-world component to the assignment would benefit students, too. Requiring them to give an in-person report to the library they observe would likely bring an additional level of rigor to the assignment that goes way beyond passive one-hour observation of a reference librarian on the desk. Combining observation, critical thinking, and research-based evidence to create solutions would prepare these students to do real work after graduation. Likewise, such an assignment would give them practical experience with future colleagues as part of a library team. In the end, this assignment would not only sharpen their observational skills but also shape their communication skills. The resulting classroom discussion would be richer. Not only would the particulars of the observations be on the table but reactions to the debrief meetings would be as well.

 Read the whole piece here:

Also – here is last year’s combined column:

Office Hours: Our Common Purpose

My new column is available at LJ’s site:

“Get a blog, launch texting, create a Facebook page” has been the rallying cry—from me, too—for some time, but the reasons for doing these things should be clear. They’re an extension of what we have always done, the foundational purpose of libraries. Service. Access. Context.

Many LIS programs include “how-to” technology classes. These are useful for providing the skills new grads need to be marketable. Along with those skill-based courses, however, we must give students opportunities to learn how to engage actively with people, facilitate people’s interests and conversation, and promote the creation of community. These concepts should translate from the real world to online and back again.

Peter Block writes in Community: The Structure of Belonging, “Communities are human systems given form by conversations that build relatedness.” This echoes Wesch’s point—building a relationship between the educator and the learner or between the librarian and the user is a step toward establishing the bonds of community. That’s why we can’t just hide behind our reference desks or our virtual lecterns and hope that students or users listen but leave us alone. Active engagement begins here. If we can articulate our purpose well and use it as a basis for building community, we are on the right track.